Giving More Than You Receive

Melvin Tillman, Melvin Tillman, MA

Posted by: Melvin Tillman
Melvin Tillman, MA
267-428-2612


            Whether they are with our friends, family, or loved ones, the relationships that you hold with others are truly important.  We’ve all heard that being caring and supportive is essential for our relationships, but what happens when we give more than we receive?  Specifically, if you’re usually the one to reach out, make plans, and provide emotional support, how does that impact you mentally?  This article will discuss the dangers of giving more than you receive, how to assess that dynamic, as well as how to change it.

 

What Does it Mean to Give More Than You Receive?

 

            Before discussing what makes this a problem, it is important to have a shared definition on what it means to give more than you receive.  This article defines this dynamic as the perceived inequality where one person puts in more effort into nurturing the relationship than the other.  Imagine that you and a loved one share a garden.  To keep the garden nice and healthy, it requires someone to till the land, remove the weeds, create barriers, and so much more.  Now, imagine that you’re the only person doing all of that work.  It wouldn’t feel fair for the division of labor to be so lopsided, especially if that wasn’t the agreed expectation.  The same goes for interpersonal relationships.  They also require work, such as, active listening, making time to see the person, providing support, and creating plans.  If an ideal relationship has an average division of 50-50, this article is for those who experience a 60-40 split or higher.

 

Why is it a Problem to Give More Than You Receive?

 

            It may not be clear to everyone why it’s problematic to give more than you receive.  Many cultures value selflessness, especially for women.  Therefore, it’s easy for a person to see their extra work as normal, positive, or even expected.  It is also important to note that we sometimes do have to give more than we receive at certain times (e.g., a friend is sick, sister recently lost a job, partner experienced death in the family).  All of that being said, consistently putting in more than you receive leads to unpleasant feelings, especially when there’s an expectation or a desire for a more balanced relationship.  Anger, resentment, and sadness are common reactions to an unfair situation, and doing more of the work within a relationship can  definitely be perceived as unfair.  That imbalance isn’t useful for anyone; it simply poisons your mood, how you interact with the other person, and the relationship as a whole.

 

How To Tell If You Give More Than You Receive

 

            So, if giving more than you receive is bad, how can you tell if you’re falling into that dynamic?  One thing that you can do is reflect on how you feel after you spend time with the person.  For this activity, all you need is a sheet of paper and a pen.  On the top of the paper, right the following statement: “How I Feel After Spending Time With _____.”  Fill the blank with whomever you’re thinking of.  After you have done that, write whatever comes to your mind.  Focus on your mood, your energy, and your willingness to spend more time with the person.  If you need more guidance, try answering the following questions before starting the activity.  They can help paint a picture of what your current dynamic is like.

 

  • Who tends to initiate and follow through with visits?
  • Who’s the better listener when discussing problems?
  • How easy would you consider the relationship?
  • How long would the relationship last if you stopped reaching out?
  • How often do they make plans to do something that really interests you?
  • How often do you feel as though you are their therapist or priest?
  • How often do you have to convince them to hang out with you?
  • How energized are you after spending time with them?
  • How frequently do they “take charge” to ensure everyone’s needs are met?
  • How common is it for them to be the first person to check in?

 

After you’ve written how you feel, reflect on what you wrote.  What stands out to you?  Are your statements generally positive, or can you see shades of anger, resentment, exhaustion, and sadness?  If it happens to be the latter, don’t fret.  There are still things that you can do.

 

What to Do When You are Giving More Than You Receive?

 

            People are not perfect, therefore, neither are relationships.  Fortunately, people are able to change.  If you find yourself giving more than you receive, communicating this dynamic to the other person can be beneficial.  No one sees life through an objective lens; sometimes people need others to point out their blind spots.  In other words, the other person may not even realize that the two of you are in a 70-30 split.  When you do convey this dynamic, do so in a non-judgmental, non-accusatory tone.  Your anger and frustration may indeed be justified.  However, the other person is less likely to hear you if you’re being harsh, and even less likely to try to make a change.  To help facilitate this non-judgmental approach, use “I statements.”  These statements come from your perspective and your feelings, which make people less likely to become defensive.  Here are some examples of “I statements.”

 

  • “I am starting to feel exhausted in our relationship, and I think that it’s because I’ve been so focused on attending to your needs and not being comfortable asking for my own support.”
  • “I’m starting to worry that I am doing most of the heavy lifting within our relationship.  I value what we have, so I was hoping that we can work together to try to solve this.”
  • “I don’t feel as happy as I used to when we hang out.  I think that it’s because our relationship feels imbalanced.”

 

Being so open about how you feel isn’t easy; being vulnerable is scary.  At the same time, being so candid creates the conditions for change.  After you have opened up about the dynamic, another useful tool is to pull back on your given effort.  If you feel as though you have been giving 70 to their 30, try to shoot for 60 or even 50.  Every relationship dynamic is unique, so in order to assess what “shooting for 50” would look like, reflect on your specific actions, and decrease them by a reasonable amount.  For instance, if you check in with the other person once a week, try only texting them every other week.  If you find yourself traveling to the other person 7 out of 10 times a month, travel to them only 5 times.  Though pulling back can be quite beneficial, doing so without communication isn’t recommended.  Once again, the other person may not be aware of the imbalanced dynamic.  If your goal is to improve the relationship as well as your mood, pulling back needs to come from a place of health, not spite.

            Though some people feel comfortable being in the caretaking role, that dynamic often neglects the caretaker’s needs.  Just as how others are deserving of care, so is the caretaker.  Asking for more support or balance within the relationship can feel uncomfortable; however, advocating for yourself can lead to positive change.  Going back to the garden analogy, there are some plants that will grow and take up as much space as possible.  Before you know it, the plant is taking up the entire garden.  However, if you were to introduce fencing and staples (i.e., healthy boundaries), you’ll notice that there’s ample room for that plant and other fruits and vegetables.  Self-advocacy and boundaries don’t have to be harmful, but they do have to happen.

 

Having healthy interpersonal relationships is important; however, being in one isn’t always easy.  There are times where we give more than we receive, which often leads to resentment, anger, and exhaustion.  To prevent this, it’s important to realize the roles we play within in our relationships, as well as how to convey any perceived inequality.  If you still find yourself dissatisfied with your relationships after reading this article, you may need help exiting unhealthy dynamics.  Schedule a session with one of our trained therapists at https://www.therapyinphiladelp...